The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin

Friday 15th January 2010 - LGA misleads Peers over live music bill

The Local Government Association has been handing out a misleading and offensive briefing against Lord Clement-Jones' live music bill.

Entitled 'Live Music Bill - LGA Group Second Reading Briefing' and dated 15th January 2010, the A4 page has been distributed to Peers over the past two days in advance of the bill's 2nd reading today in the House of Lords.

The introduction makes these key claims: 'The Live Music Bill proposes exempting performances of live music that attract an audience of fewer than 200 people from the need for a premises licence. It also proposes reintroducing the "two in a bar" rule which would allow up to two performers to play live music anywhere without the need for a licence.'

On the basis of those claims, it then states in bold type:

'LGA View - The LGA does not support this Bill. If introduced it would restrict the rights of local people and their directly-elected councils, and deny them a voice in the licensing process for live music. Licensing authorities are trusted to ensure that their residents' wishes are heard and that the licences of local premises take into account the wellbeing of the neighbourhood as a whole. We believe that families should be able to put their children to bed in peace and be able to relax in their homes without being disturbed by noise from local premises.'

But this is misleading claptrap. Under the bill, the exemption for live music that might apply in pubs and bars could be revoked if residents' complaints were upheld following a licence review. Councils' and local people's rights of redress under the Licensing Act remain at such venues, if there are problems. The exemption proposed for hospitals, schools and colleges is conditional upon no alcohol being sold during its provision. If alcohol were to be sold, the event would be licensable.

In any event, local people, their councils and the police, already have statutory redress against noise nuisance under various Acts, irrespective of licensing, including noise abatement notices issued under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (which can be pre-emptive or reactive), on-the-spot fines for licensees under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 (for noisy premises between 11pm and 7am), and fines under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (noise nuisance coming from a dwelling or garden between 11pm and 7am).

The LGA briefing is offensive where it insinuates that live music generally must be regarded a threat to families and 'the wellbeing of the neighbourhood', and that this threat is such that it must be pre-emptively regulated by licensing. There is absolutely no evidence of any significant nuisance or public order problem caused by live music, certainly nothing that justifies making it a potential criminal offence merely to host a performance by one musician.

The briefing goes on to quote recent licensing statistics in support of the LGA view. But these statistics have already been exposed as meaningless, specifically the claimed rise in live music permissions of about 11% since 2007. Since this data was published last year by DCMS, the government has had to concede that they don't know what proportion of the apparent increase is accounted for by venues that would not have needed a licence under the old regime, including two-in-a-bar venues, and schools and hospitals hosting public events. Nor do they know what live music licence conditions apply, and whether these have been implemented by the venue - as they must be if gigs are to be legal.

The LGA's concluding arguments suggest that in their view the new 'minor variation' process and new guidance on the 'incidental music' exemption obviate the need for any new exemption. But clearly even the government accepts that neither is likely to be of significant benefit because they would not have proposed their own 100-capacity exemption otherwise.

A call to the LGA established that this rather dodgy briefing originated with their Culture, Media and Sport Committee, chaired by St Albans councillor Chris White.


Hamish Birchall